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The best career advice I ever received

We asked top grocers to share the pearls of wisdom that helped them get to where they are today

Specialty grocer Pete Luckett of Halifax was expanding from one Pete’s Frootique store to two when he says he received the best piece of advice anyone ever gave him: hire a human resources person.

“The day I hired an HR manager my business changed dramatically,” he says. Having someone devoted to building, training and stabilizing his workforce has been an integral part of expanding, says Luckett. Today he has 300 employees. “Kudos to my HR team (now three people) for developing my workforce. I get compliments all the time from my customers who say, ‘Where do you find your employees?’ ”

When Toronto restaurateur Mark McEwan was preparing to open his luxury grocery store, in 2009, in Toronto’s Don Mills neighbourhood, he wasted money soliciting unhelpful advice from consultants. “The best advice, I gave myself,” says McEwan. “Build your brand one customer at a time.”

Key to this notion has been a focus on providing exceptional service and high-quality products. “For me, swimming amongst the giants, it’s the only way to survive,” he says. Even when naysayers questioned whether his high-end grocery concept would thrive in a recession, McEwan saw it as an opportunity. “It made me work harder, worry more and focus.”

Chuck Mulvenna, Canada Safeway president and COO, has received a lot of sage advice over his 40 years with the company. Early on, the advice that stuck was to have laser focus on the task at hand, earning Mulvenna the respect of his co-workers.

His most important advice: this job is not about you; it’s about giving your teammates the information and the tools they need to succeed. “I believe in keeping things simple, by getting to the salient information quickly and making a decision.” Mulvenna adds, “Don’t tell me about the labour, just show me the baby.” And make work fun “as laughter is the best medicine. He who laughs–lasts.”

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